Today's news -- May 1, 2017





Senate committee stymies bill to limit job guarantees *

A bill to bar Florida school districts from guaranteeing teachers on annual contract an additional year of employment if they earn a strong evaluation unexpectedly stumbled Friday in its final committee before full Senate consideration. The Senate Rules Committee voted 6-6 against the measure, casting doubt on SB 856 as it otherwise appeared headed to approval. The Florida House adopted a companion measure (HB 373) three weeks ago. Proponents cast the initiative as a simple clarification to 2011 law, in which the Legislature said any teacher hired after July 1 of that year could receive only a one-year contract. That ended the practice of professional services contracts, which some likened to tenured job protection. Dozens of districts negotiated around the rule by agreeing to extend by one year the employment of any annual contract teacher who gets a rating of "effective" or better, and has no disciplinary issues. Sen. Rob Bradley called such actions a circumvention of the "obvious will of the Legislature." When unions challenged districts that refused to offer similar agreements, they got mixed responses from special magistrates. "There is confusion in existing law," sponsor Sen. Doug Broxson said Friday. "We need to send a clear message of what our intent was." Teachers, and some district leaders, questioned the need for such legislation, though. They suggested it would undermine local decision-making, as well as hurt efforts to maintain teacher morale and keep faculty from leaving. It seems unusual that the Legislature would be more willing to allow a high-performing charter school a 15-year contract than to permit a district to offer a high-performing teacher a guaranteed one-year renewal, FEA representative Jeff Wright told the Rules Committee. They found an ally in Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala. "I was here when we passed this law," Latvala said. "I am trying to understand why it's necessary to have this bill." He and fellow Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate second in command, voted with Democrats Lauren Book, Bill Montford, Perry Thurston and Oscar Braynon against moving the measure to the floor. HB 373 has been sent to the Senate and could possibly be removed from its committees of reference, if leadership so desires. But for now, the legislation supported by districts including Pasco County remains uncertain of crossing the finish line that had looked so near.


Legislators agree to small boost for schools *

The House and Senate agreed to a relatively modest increase in per-student funding for public schools Friday, as negotiations continued over state spending for the budget year that begins July 1. Under an agreement reached by leaders, per-student spending through the state's main formula for schools would increase 0.34 percent, or $24.49 a head. Discussions on other education projects were expected to continue. Lawmakers' ability to significantly increase per-student funding was hampered by two decisions that carried out other House priorities: to not allow local education property taxes to rise with real estate values, and to plow more than $400 million into teacher bonuses and the House's "schools of hope" charter giveaway proposal. Neither of those two items is included in the main formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. But lawmakers involved in the education budget talks said not accounting for the additional spending doesn't give a full picture of what the Legislature is doing for education. "It's been our theme from the very beginning that we're going to laser-target those students in the high-need areas," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House's education budget subcommittee. The details of how to spend the $400 million remain up in the air. Initially, House leaders had set aside almost $214 million for the "Best and Brightest" bonus program for teachers, anticipating a surge of new awards after expanding which teachers are eligible and expanding the program to cover principals as well. Another $200 million would go to the "schools of hope" charter giveaway, which is meant to encourage charter schools to open in areas where traditional public schools have struggled academically. But all $414 million is now combined into one line item that will be divvied up based on details the two chambers are still discussing. Senate leaders hope to make some of the "schools of hope" money available to traditional public schools for wraparound services, like health care and after-school programs. Lawmakers said how much goes to each program could fluctuate based on the final agreement.  "We look forward to allocating that based upon our discussions, but I do believe that they'll be consistent with what has previously been presented, and that is almost 50-50," said Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Senate education budget panel.


Make public schools a priority *

Public schools are the foundation of our democracy; they give all children a chance, no matter their background, no matter their zip code. Please, legislators, make our children your first priority in your grand budget bargain. We’re charged with providing a first class education for all, but with current budget projections, we’ll barely stay afloat. We know you can do better and the public will support you when you do. Those of us who have children and grandchildren are awestruck by the opportunities now available in our public schools. Students today take rigorous college courses that were beyond most of our wildest dreams when we went to high school. Now please make other dreams possible. As you know, many Florida families are facing significant challenges, and they bring those challenges with them into our public schools. Research shows that income level is the surest indicator of success in school. Our D and F schools are not “failure factories”; they better resemble emergency centers. These schools don’t need labels; they need help. For starters:

• If you have $200 million to invest in “Schools of Hope” (corporate charter schools), let local school boards compete for those funds so we can create turn-around schools. We have been anxious to pilot ideas such as wrap-around services to assist families with medical and other needs. Actual resources to do this at our existing low-performing schools would be a godsend. Think globally, but please invest locally.

• Vote for current proposals that seek relief from the overtesting of our children and the convoluted teacher evaluation system known as VAM. That would help student, teacher and parent morale immensely.

• You’ve heard from superintendents around the state that Florida is facing an alarming teacher retention and shortage problem. Florida ranks near the bottom in average teacher salary. Treat and pay teachers as professionals and they’ll both stay and join the ranks.

• Don’t adopt “proficiency” language that could raise the passing score once again and artificially turn hundreds more schools into D and F schools.

• To make a lasting difference, fully fund Pre-K education. That would be an investment that would pay terrific dividends for our kids and state forever.

Please stand firm on a responsible budget for Florida’s students and families. Public schools need your support more than ever; don’t forsake them in their hour of need.

Compromises on education policy remain a mystery *

With days left before lawmakers have to finalize the annual state budget if session is to end as scheduled May 5, Floridians still have very little idea what kind of compromise lawmakers are crafting behind closed doors when it comes to the most consequential reforms this year that affect K-12 public schools. House and Senate leaders late Saturday had yet to release any proposed amended language for substantive policy bills tied to the education budget, such as those calling for:

▪ A brand-new $200 million “schools of hope” charter giveaway program (HB 5105) to help students in perpetually failing schools.

▪ A $214 million expansion of annual “Best & Brightest” bonuses for teachers and principals (HB 7069) that rely on their personal academic achievements.

▪ And reforms to how school construction and maintenance dollars — from the state and from local property taxes — are shared between traditional and charter schools (SB 376).

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and Altamonte Springs Republican Sen. David Simmons, the House and Senate chairmen building the $15 billion pre-K-12 schools budget, concluded their conference subcommittee’s work Saturday morning after reaching agreement on a small increase for general school spending but without hashing out — at least, publicly — any of the differences the chambers have on these major programs. Those policy negotiations — along with budget issues pending in other areas like healthcare or transportation — then fell to the full Appropriations chairmen, Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Rep. Carlos Trujillo of Miami. At a meeting late Saturday of the full Appropriations conference committee, the policy bills were not discussed. Latvala said Saturday night: “We’re going to start wading through them one by one” on Sunday. He reiterated a statement made repeatedly by Senate leadership that the policy bills had been considered already by one or both chambers, so “it’s not anything new, or any surprises.” However, House and Senate leaders had repeatedly vowed — and continue to promise — to have a transparent budget process with opportunity for meaningful public comment, particularly on the substantial education reforms linked to the budget. The “schools of hope” proposal received nine hours of consideration in the House, but senators have discussed their version of it for only 90 minutes and in rushed hearings, during which public comment was restricted at times. Instead of a change from previous years, budget conference negotiations have unfolded much as they have in the past with scripted public meetings that involve no real conversation or debate. The public is made aware of meetings only one hour in advance, so only those nearest to Tallahassee can logistically attend. Chairmen trade pre-arranged offers in words that sound almost like code: “On page 4 ... on lines 2F and 6A, the House offers a modified position.” It’s difficult to follow even for the few audience members who are lucky to have in hand copies of complicated budget spreadsheets, which aren’t released until after a conference meeting starts and which serve as a key to translating the chairmen’s verbal offers. The conference meetings can sometimes last only a few minutes.

Recess, testing, other issues await action by lawmakers *

Hot-button school issues, including daily recess and standardized testing, remain on Florida lawmakers’ to-do list with just a week left in their annual legislative session. The Legislature has hashed out a few broad agreements on some key education topics, including a boost in funding for state universities and extra money for House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s controversial plan to lure charter schools to neighborhoods with struggling traditional public schools. Lawmakers also have agreed to expand the much-debated Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, which ties teacher bonuses in part to their scores on ACT or SAT exams. But key details on those efforts, and on many other education bills, must be hashed out before Friday’s scheduled adjournment. And even plans where House and Senate leaders seem to have reached an accord face intense lobbying and debate before they will get final votes. Corcoran, for example, has touted his charter school plan, dubbed “schools of hope,” as an effort to bring “a world class education and a future” to students attending campuses with dismal academic track records. But the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union, blasted the proposal as a “lavish giveaway to charter operators” -- the private management groups that help run public charter schools - that won’t benefit most Florida students and shows “the real goal” is to “dismantle public schools and profit off our students.”


PolitiFact Florida: How not-for-profit are charter schools, really?


Lawmakers set to defund school that educated “Moonlight”, “Hamilton” makers


After outcry, lawmakers scrap plans to fully slash aid to ‘Moonlight’ alumni’s school


Speaker’s late-night tweet about school recess bill points finger at Scott


School bus safety bill passes Florida House


Osceola School Board, union agree on salary and benefits package (Apryle Jackson quoted)


At high school in Hillsborough, teacher who supports LGBT students faces attack (Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins quoted)


Pinellas teachers gets assaulted; administrators blame her (Mike Gandolfo quoted)


Palm Beach schools chief links Netflix series to spike in suicide threats


Weingarten to protest austerity during Florida visit

A national teachers union leader will protest state and federal school aid proposals during a series of stops in Florida today. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will rally in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. She also plans to visit after-school programs in South Florida, calling attention to the potential impact of budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration. Weingarten said her fight is against not only Republicans on the federal level, but also conservatives in the Florida Legislature. The union opposes “the Trump budget and the budget cutting and austerity that the hard right is pushing for in both Tallahassee and Washington that is starving our public schools and the kids we serve,” Weingarten said. “We can’t undo what [U.S. education secretary] Betsy DeVos did in Michigan, but we can and must stop her from doing it in Florida and throughout the country,” said Weingarten, who criticized Trump and DeVos for making their first official visit to an Orlando Catholic school where students use vouchers. Weingarten will attend a 10:30 a.m. rally at Miami Dade College’s north campus, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a former school board member and former school principal. Later, she will follow a moving billboard through Miami, visiting the after-school programs. Then she’ll go to a 5 p.m. rally with the Broward Teachers Union, the Florida SEIU and an immigrants’ rights advocacy group at Huizenga Park in Ft. Lauderdale. The events follow a protest at Essrig Elementary School in Tampa on Thursday, where teachers, parents, students and left-leaning activists denounced the Legislature’s so-called “schools of hope” proposal. The plan, HB 5105, which is an active component of 2017-18 budget talks, would encourage charter schools to compete with failing traditional public schools in impoverished communities throughout the state.  Weingarten’s visit also coincides with lawmakers’ final negotiations over the budget, which will likely include a negligible per-pupil increase for public schools, while providing the charter school incentives and teacher merit pay, both of which unions oppose. Florida's statewide union, the Florida Education Association, is affiliated with both AFT and the National Education Association.


Meredith: This is what MLK would tell school ‘reformers’

The problem in American public education today is not our teachers. Working with resources and schedules often stretched to the bone, they perform miracles every day for our children, only to be shamed and punished for factors beyond their control. The main problem is not the teachers unions, though like any institution they can be reformed and improved. It is not our children or our parents, though families can and must do a much better job of instilling discipline, respect, compassion and healthy life habits in our children. The main problems in American public education are poverty, decades of neglect and segregation of our high-poverty schools, and a system that is today driven not by parents and teachers but by politicians, bureaucrats, ideologues and profiteers with little if any knowledge of how children learn. The education system has been hijacked by money, much of which is being squandered.


Standardized test-takers link with ejected passengers

When you think about it, all standardized tests -- not just those that are norm-referenced -- are based on this compulsion to compare.  If we were interested in educational excellence, we could use authentic forms of assessment that are based on students’ performance at a variety of classroom projects over time.  The only reason to standardize the process, to give all kids the same questions under the same conditions on a contrived, one-shot, high-stakes test, is if what we wanted to know wasn’t “how well are they learning?” but “who’s beating whom?”


What the latest assaults on science education look like


Why are we criminalizing behavior of children with disabilities?


Trump orders study of federal role in education


Facing pressure, more schools scramble to confront dangers of lead in water


Shaming children so parents will pay the school lunch bill


Vouchers found to lower test scores in Washington schools


State lawmakers reach deal on higher ed changes *

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Saturday on the major portions of a higher-education budget that will dramatically expand student financial aid, boost university funding and bring significant policy changes for universities and state colleges. The deal announced by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, who lead their chambers’ higher-education budget committees, includes a $180 million increase for the Bright Futures merit-scholarship program. The increase will cover full tuition and fees for the top-performing Bright Futures students, known as “academic scholars.” It will also provide them with $300 per semester to cover books and will allow them to attend summer classes. Equally significant was a record increase in programs helping students with financial need. It includes a $121 million boost in the Florida “student assistance grants,” the largest state needs-based aid program. The agreement will also double a “first generation in college” program to more than $10 million, with the state providing a 2-to-1 match for the scholarship funding. Another $500,000 will create a scholarship program to help students from farmworker families. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has made raising the status of the state university system one of his top priorities. Negron toured the 12 university campuses last spring gathering information to develop his proposal. As part of an agreement on the outline of a roughly $83 billion state budget, the House accepted Negron’s higher-education package, while the Senate agreed to support initiatives by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, in the kindergarten through 12th-grade system. Senate and House leaders this weekend are continuing to negotiate details of a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget must be finished Tuesday for the annual legislative session to end on time Friday, because of a constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the spending plan.


DeVos to speak at Bethune-Cookman graduation

Betsy DeVos is slated to deliver the spring commencement address at a private historically black university in Daytona Beach, prompting criticisms from Democrats who point to her recent characterization of the institutions founded during racial segregation as “pioneers” of “school choice.” The Trump administration education secretary is expected to speak at Bethune-Cookman University’s graduation ceremony May 10. DeVos also plans to appear at a prayer breakfast hosted by the school at the Amway Center in Orlando the next morning, according to Ed Moore, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, an organization that lobbies on behalf of B-CU. DeVos' father-in-law founded Amway and owns the Orlando Magic, an NBA team that plays at the venue. DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor and voucher proponent, angered advocates of historically black colleges and universities in February when she said the schools were “the real pioneers when it comes to school choice” and “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” "School choice" is a term education reform advocates use to refer to charter schools, vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. But when HBCUs were founded, black students had no other choices; they weren't allowed to attend white schools. Leaders of the schools called her comments ignorant and accused her of whitewashing the country's history of racial segregation. As the controversy erupted, DeVos attempted to clarify her points during a luncheon of HBCU leaders in Washington. There, she offered Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of B-CU, as an example of a leader who “inspires” her. The university’s president, Edison Jackson, was present for the event. “During her remarkable 79 years on this earth, Mary Bethune fought for one singular and indispensable goal: to provide African-American children access to a quality education,” DeVos said February 28. “Today, Bethune-Cookman University in Florida remains a thriving member of the HBCU community and continues to stand as a legacy to Mary’s commitment to students.” Democrats seized the opportunity to criticize her on social media as rumors of her planned appearance began to circulate. “@BetsyDeVos to speak at #BethuneCookman? Did we forget she said #HBCUs forged during racial segregation were ‘pioneers of school choice?’ ….SMH [shaking my head],” tweeted state Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Tallahassee Democrat who attended Florida A&M University, the state's only public HBCU. Symone Sanders — Democratic strategist, CNN political commentator and former national press secretary to then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (no relation) — also slammed the school on Twitter. “Learning #BetsyDevos is the keynote speaker at Bethune-Cookman’s commencement. … Looks like someone at BCU sold their soul for a check,” Sanders posted. Neither representatives from the U.S. Department of Education nor the university immediately returned requests for comment this weekend.


UF top execs’ perks are cherry atop already-healthy salaries (Susan Hegeman quoted)


Does USF invest in oil companies, tobacco companies and private prisons?


St. Pete College’s Soviet-style presidential selection would make Putin proud


Florida license plates could soon fund out-of-state schools


Keep for-profit schools on a short leash


Yale Republicans taunt hunger-striking union workers with a barbecue


Big budget questions headed to House and Senate presiding officers


Low-tax Florida underfunds services


State budget still doesn’t pass transparency test


Legislature’s secrecy leaving public in the dark


Property tax debate teed up in Senate


Property tax proposal: Middle class cut or massive tax shift?


Homestead vote tests Senate


Cuts get more severe for Scott's top priority


Latvala says Corcoran retaliated against those who supported Visit Florida funding


Scott targets legislators with phone calls


Ausley blasts Corcoran for “empty promises” on budget transparency


Road proves breezy and “bumpy” for spending conferences


As state budget talks wind down, which local projects are making the cut?


Constitutional review panel money becomes a “bump issue”


Mental health, drug abuse care among remaining budget concerns


UF study calculates Florida hospitals' economic and jobs impact


Term limits put the quality of judges in jeopardy


Don’t close courthouse doors on Floridians


Bill would wipe clean FDLE criminal records of people found not guilty


Florida needs answers on death penalty discretion


House votes to punish “sanctuary city” officials


Senator unleashes fury after he said a slavery memorial would “celebrate defeat”


Florida Slavery Memorial, a new idea caught up in an old war


Groveland -- Florida’s legacy of hate


Florida faces its past and is sorry, but does an apology really matter?


Jacksonville employees won’t get pensions, but some elected leaders will


House marijuana bill moves closer to Senate version


A hangover coming for some liquor store owners?


Miami firm involved in anti-hazing program did not detail use of $1 million


Trump signs order to open up more oil drilling, setting up clash with state


Trump's offshore drilling order met by mostly criticism in state


Trump orders review of safety rules created after Gulf oil spill


Corcoran pulls the plug on FPL fracking bill for session


Sanders and Murray: It’s time for a national $15 minimum wage


Weak economy collides with Trump's lofty rhetoric


Is the GOP getting serious about the Russia investigation?


Flynn’s latest legal problems: a brief guide


How the Republican right found allies in Russia


UK was given details of alleged contacts between Trump campaign and Moscow


Susan Rice denies misusing intel to damage Trump


Kremlin turns its electoral meddling to Western Europe


Congress reaches deal to keep government open through September


Trump’s tax cuts may be more damaging than Reagan’s


When Congress made taxes fairer


Taxes will go up. Here’s why.


Under the Trump tax plan, we might all want to become corporations


Trump’s budget proposal is an attack on the working class


Trump’s populism has nothing to do with helping the people who voted for him


Trump’s infrastructure plan is just a windfall for Wall Street


Climate March draws massive crowd to D.C. in sweltering heat


Climate protesters in South Florida march against Trump's policies


Climate protesters march to edge of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago


The American people – not Big Oil – must decide our climate future


A new book on the climate crisis makes the persuasive case that we’re not doomed


EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades


Trump wins easier path to scrapping Obama's clean power plan


GOP faces make-or-break moment on Obamacare repeal


Trump doesn’t know anything about the health care bill he’s pushing

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